Pope in Greece: May the Spirit be poured out in a new Pentecost
By Vatican News staff writer
Pope Francis and Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and All Greece greeted each other warmly at the Orthodox Archbishopric in Athens. The Archbishop offered an introductory address expressing "feelings of brotherhood and honour" in welcoming the Pope to the seat of the Church of Athens, while recalling their joint visit to the island of Lesvos in 2016 to raise global awareness about the plight of refugees and migrants.
In his wide-ranging address, Archbishop Ieronymos recalled pressing issues of our day, including the pandemic, the migrant, and refugee crisis which calls for urgent solutions, response to climate change, as well as fast-paced developments in technology changing culture and displacing the roots of Christian faith. He also recalled this year's bicentennial of the Greek struggle for freedom, expressing regret over what he termed "missed opportunities" for the Catholic Church in support of their struggle. At the same time, looking to the future, he renewed his great esteem and affection for Pope Francis and common efforts to move forward as brothers by looking at the lights and shadows of the past and present in a continuing dialogue of "truth and love" for the unity of Christians.
Sharing the joy of fraternity
In his address, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the warm welcome and affection expressed by his Beatitude, and he greeted all the Orthodox faithful of Greece. He recalled their common meeting in Lesvos in 2016 where the Pope and the Primate showed their solidarity and brought attention to the plight of suffering refugees and migrants on that island. He said they are now meeting again "to share the joy of fraternity" and to view the Mediterranean as a "sea that brings peoples together". He recalled the metaphor of the age-old olive trees present here and how they have deep roots sustaining them. The Pope likened them to the common, apostolic roots of Christianity which have endured over the centuries.
Asking forgiveness for the past
At the same time, he acknowledged how tragically "world concerns poisoned us" and led to divisions among Christians. He said, "Shamefully – I acknowledge this for the Catholic Church – actions and decisions that had little or nothing to do with Jesus and the Gospel, but were instead marked by a thirst for advantage and power, gravely weakened our communion." The Pope added, "I feel the need to ask anew for the forgiveness of God and of our brothers and sisters for the mistakes committed by many Catholics." The Pope stressed we can be assured that our roots are apostolic, and that "what God planted continues to grow and bear fruit in the same Spirit." He said we are graced to be able to recognize one another's good fruits and give thanks to the Lord.
The oil of communion
The Pope recalled the ultimate fruit of the olive is oil, which calls to mind the Holy Spirit who gave birth to the Church. He said the "the Holy Spirit is above all the oil of communion," and that "to recognize this our shared humanity is the point of departure for building communion." He noted how fraternal communion "brings God's blessing," and when the Spirit is poured into our hearts, we are driven to "seek ever greater fraternity, to structure ourselves in communion." He then encouraged working together to help one another in worshipping God and serving our neighbour "without proselytism and in full respect for the freedom of others." This is an urgent need today, he stressed, since we must be united in order to more credibly "proclaim the love of Christ who gathers the nations."
The oil of wisdom and consolation
The Pope added that the Spirit is the oil of wisdom as well. Here he expressed his appreciation for how the Orthodox Church, "heir to the first significant inculturation of the faith with Hellenic culture," gives great importance to theological training and preparation. He praised the cooperation that exists between the Church of Greece and the Vatican as well as the Pontifical universities in Rome, and the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue.
The same Spirit is also "the oil of consolation", the Pope concluded, saying that "the Spirit urges us to care for the weak and poor and to bring their cause, paramount in the eyes of God, to the world’s attention." The Spirit calls us "to heal the wounds of mankind with the oil of love."
Kindle in our hearts the desire for communion
In conclusion, Pope Francis said, "We need prayer for one another in order to bring to the world God’s consolation and to heal our wounded relationships." Prayer, he said, is essential to overcome the past.
He prayed that the Spirit of the crucified and risen Lord might come upon us and grant us “a calm, clear-sighted, and truthful vision of things enlivened by divine mercy and capable of freeing people’s minds and inspiring in everyone a renewed willingness." He prayed that the Lord may "kindle in our hearts the desire for communion, enlighten us with His wisdom and anoint us with His consolation."